The different images that we find in Tantra are symbolic representations of various manifestations of energy and consciousness. Rather than just understanding what one image means, it is necessary to understand what all these images actually represent.
In the process of discovery, the thinkers and sadhakas of the past encountered different manifestations of shakti. In Tantra ten major manifestations of shakti have been described which are known as the ten maha vidyas, maha meaning 'great', 'supreme', vidya meaning 'knowledge'. The first image, the first maha vidya, is that of Kali. Kali is the energy of Kaala. Kaala means Lord of death, Lord of time, Lord of the manifest dimension. Shakti is the energy and Kali is the energy of Kaala.
Kaala also means a state of consciousness which is bound only by the laws of time, not space and object. Despite this definiton, Kaala is the passive force, while Kali is the active one. Kaala is the aspect of Shiva, while Kali is the aspect of shakti. She is the chief goddess of the tantrics. She is the one who has to be made happy first, and only when you have passed through the Kali maha vidya are you sanctioned to receive the knowledge of the power and wisdom of the other maha vidyas.
There is a story in the Devi Bhagavate, an ancient text, which talks about the war between the demons and the shaktis. Kali was one shakti who fought in that war. Mythologically and spiritually there can be many meanings, but she is the devourer of anything and everything that is manifest. On a battlefield when people are dying, the Kali force is active, consuming the life force.
The story describes how, in this process of devouring the life force and terminating the life of the negative forces on the planet, Kali went berserk and had the idea of total destruction. How could that uncontrollable force which was consuming everything be stopped? Shiva, Kali's master, started practising yoga nidra in her path. As soon as Kali stepped on Shiva's body she came to her senses. What am I doing? I only have power over time, not over the entire creation. That is looked after by another supreme being. We all have our defined roles, and from that moment Kali stopped her terrible destruction.
So, the image of Shiva lying beneath Kali depicts that moment when the force of time and life can be stilled, when that force is made to climb on the body of consciousness. If you look at it from the yogic viewpoint, you will understand it. That shakti principle, which is represented as kundalini, is a principle which lives by itself, away from Shiva, whose abode is sahasrara. Shakti is all alone in mooladhara.
Now, when shakti is climbing up the different chakras, coming to sahasrara, it just becomes wild. Consciousness has no control over shakti, and in this wild state shakti encounters the demonic aspects of consciousness and of energy also, which are confined in different chakras.
Just imagine a pure force which encounters insecurities at a gross level. What will the reaction be? It will just smash through the gross manifestations and become wilder and wilder. It is not a passive force. There is a concentration of energy which is being directed at smashing through something which exists, like a wall. If I have to hit a sandbag then I make a fist and punch, but as I punch, all the power is concentrated at one point. The entire force of the body is concentrated at one point which is now solid, strong, and powerful. In this way, the shakti which identifies with the pure nature has to smash through many different barriers in the process of her descent to the earthly plane.
This is where the theory of Kundalini Yoga comes in: smashing through the walls of insecurities and desires in mooladhara, through the walls of fear in swadhisthana, through the barriers of ambition, ego and desires of a different kind in manipura. Yoga says that there are four major instincts in life which have to be transcended: maithuna, the sexual instinct, which is in the region of mooladhara; bhaya, the fears and insecurities which belong to the region of swadhisthana; ahara, the craving and desiring for more and more, which belongs to the region of manipura; and nidra, disconnection, the fourth barrier which is in anahata.
Disconnection of the self from the world of the senses is a natural inbuilt protection in our personality to stop the external world from overloading the brain and mind. Physically we experience the state of nidra as sleep. When we are tired from working, what is the first thing that happens? We just want to rest, and when we begin to rest what happens? We begin to go in. That sleep is an inbuilt protection to stop the body, brain, mind and senses from overloading in the world of name, form and idea, in the world of time, space and object.
In the process of rising, kundalini shakti has to break down the barriers of instincts and that is not easy to do. If we analyse our own life objectively, have we in all these years of practice been able to control attachment, anger, insecurity, fear, jealousy and hatred? What are we doing if we have not been able to achieve the basic requirement to awaken ourselves internally? The answer is simple: we have never tried or attempted to overcome these things within us. We have only tried to have pleasant experiences in life. We have aspired for darshan, a vision of something divine, while ignoring the rot that is within us.
So, there is a big gap in our own approach to yoga, between our practice and what we actually desire. There is no harmony between the two. We always want to make a big jump, and we are constantly thinking about how we can make that big jump. People come here with the desire to attain realisation, if not instantaneously then at least as soon as possible.
We tend to forget one thing: that the state of awakening or the state of realisation is an outcome of a harmonious and balanced personality. Realisation cannot be achieved if there is no practice which can take you towards realisation. There is no practice that can take you towards attainment. Everything that happens in spiritual life is an outcome of having perfected one level, then moving on to the next level. As you move from level to level you attain something, but that attainment is not the end result.
I have seen this very much in the life of Paramahamsaji. He started to practise higher sadhanas when he had exhausted his ambitions, samskaras and desires, when those things no longer had any meaning or attraction for him. Otherwise what was the use of leaving the comforts of this ashram and subjecting his body to unnecessary extreme heat during summer in Rikhia. For what reason? Sometimes I feel sorry that although we can see the progression of spiritual life in front of us, in our own guru, we have not been able to implement it in our life.
Swamis just go cuckoo trying to meditate. It has happened in India, in Australia, everywhere in the world. They lose their mental balance because they are experiencing something without overcoming or knowing what is happening at a lower level. There is disharmony and great imbalance. I feel that sincere and determined sadhana should only be done at a later stage in life when we have attained maturity of mind. You and I have not attained maturity of mind; we have only built up some aspect of our intellect or personality. That is not maturity. Maturity of mind comes when we are able to see what needs to be done according to the present situation and circumstances, and how it will ultimately benefit the practitioner.
For me the living example is our own guru. At the age of seventy when people are looking for comfort in life, he goes walkabout and then suddenly decides to renounce his clothes and become an avadhoota (final stage of sannyasa). Suddenly he is guided to perform the higher sadhanas which, in our opinion, are totally unnecessary for him. But he sees a reason, a purpose, because he has attained that maturity of mind by overcoming ambitions, ego, samskaras and karmas. I am sure that after seeing what he is doing now, many of us here want to do exactly the same thing from tomorrow onwards. That is how mature our minds are.
I do not agree with that. I believe that for a sincere aspirant the method in the initial stages is not sadhana, but seva (service), samarpan (dedication) and swadhyaya (self-knowledge). These three prepare the ground for sadhana by allowing us to reach a stage where we can attain inner maturity. You see, these are things which can only be said between a guru and a disciple, because if there is no maturity then kundalini is going to play havoc in our lives. It can definitely destroy our lives.
We want to awaken our kundalini, but are we aware of the deeper aspects of our own nature? Are we in control of the tamasic forces? Are we in control of the rajasic forces? What if there is a clash between kundalini and the tamasic forces? What will happen? There is going to be a fall.
Baba Muktananda has written that he used to have images of women enticing him. That is the mooladhara experience. Gopi Krishna used to say that he saw visions of his whole life being disrupted. There was a great imbalance because kundalini went in the wrong path. These two examples are well-known all over the world because of their writings. But there have been many other great, unknown sadhakas who have said the same thing: that you cannot aspire for something transcendental or divine or different without first having the ability to handle that power. You have to gain the ability to handle a power which is beyond the normal human range.
Definitely, great turmoil occurs when shakti rises from mooladhara and has to smash through all the barriers that are created. This great force of shakti comes up, goes to sahasrara and even tries to subdue Shiva, to gain control of consciousness. That is something which definitely has to be handled with care. There has to be preparation. If you hold two live wires in your hands you are going to be electrocuted, but if you have some protection such as rubber gloves, there is less chance of being electrocuted.
In the same way, the forces which we encounter in the form of kundalini or Kali or devi or purusha, whatever forces we encounter on our spiritual journey, have to be handled with care. Therefore, it is necessary that we define our priorities in life, because only then can a properly balanced awakening of shakti take place.
In the past few years people have come to me and said, Why can't we also practise the same things that Paramahamsaji is practising in Deoghar? I tell them, Yes, you can but become like him first. You can't do those things while you are you. When you become like him then you are free to practise. How to become like him? The answer is simple: see the maturity of his mind and try to develop the same.